The cities of Canada have incredible bar scenes and famous specialities that are known the world over; the coastline is home to some truly special seafood and the wild woodland in places like British Columbia and Newfoundland are a forager’s dream. But what about the prairies in western and central Canada, where vast swathes of farmland feed the majority of the country? The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are known as the Canadian Prairies, and together they have their own fascinating culture and food scene.
The First Nations people (indigenous aboriginals of Canada south of the Arctic) were living on the Prairies for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. However, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that settlers (mostly farmers from countries like Ukraine, Hungary and Romania) created rural communities across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and began farming the land. This diverse mix – along with the traditional foods of the First Nations people – helped to shape and influence the cuisine found in the Canadian Prairies today. Pierogis and dumplings are found throughout the three provinces, while more traditional dishes like bannock (a flatbread introduced to the First Nations people by Scottish settlers) are becoming popular at specialist restaurants.
However, it’s the access to the very best quality ingredients that really makes Prairie cuisine stand out. Traditionally, meals would be simple, farmhouse affairs – beans with beef, loaves of bread and seasonal vegetables. But as Canada’s food scene as a whole has come on leaps and bounds, restaurants throughout the Prairies are making use of what’s on their doorstep and creating exciting new dishes. Bison, elk, venison and wild boar now sit alongside Alberta’s famous beef on menus, while grains of all sorts and lake fish such as pickerel expand the offering. Saskatoon berries, native to the Prairies, are also one of Canada’s most famous foods, usually made into a simple sweet pie and served by the slice.